How RJ Reynolds developed their workforce for improved project management and service management in IT


Kevan Ostrander

VP IM, Reynolds American Inc. (RAI) Services

Wayne Brantley, MS Ed, CSM, CSPO, ITIL, PMP

AVP of Professional Education, Villanova University

Reynolds American Inc. (RAI) began a pursuit to develop competencies around project management and service management in November 2012. Several criteria for the training and selection of who would receive the training became important. This realization of the training that was needed came about from incident rates that were too high, consuming too much bandwidth that could be deployed toward growth-oriented projects and efforts. This paper will identify the process that RAI took from identification of the problem to a solution that has transformed the information management department at RAI.


Kevan Ostrander, RAI VP of Information Management, identified that there was a disparate background of experience and training, approximately 50% of IT staff came from other functions (this was by design). The “conventional” IT staff training was inconsistent and created large gaps in language and methodologies. There was a challenge between team members communicating. The benefit of a cross functional team was hard to realize beyond the challenges between team members. They all brought essential skills to the team in information management at RAI, but the challenges in communication had to be overcome.

Another challenge that the RAI information management team had was there was no one standard process for incident and problem management. The recurrence rates were too high and too expensive to continue the direction that RAI was going. By adopting the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and Project Management Institute (PMI) methodologies they felt that RAI would receive an ROI back for their investment into the training.

Projects were coming in at about 65% late and over budget. Similar to the problems with incident and problem management, project management also was an issue. The amount of dollars lost to project variance was too high as well. RAI knew there was a better way to do project management. The general consensus was that PMI's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) provided the answer that they were looking for at RAI.


RAI VP Information Management (IM) Kevan Ostrander stated, “Frankly, we were falling behind” and “It doesn't matter if our time-to-resolution on incidents and problems is within a contractual Service Level Agreement (SLA) with a service provider if we keep getting in the critical path of business performance.” RAI knew there was a standardized methodology for IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and project management. See ITIL (Exhibit 1) and PMI project management processes (Exhibit 2) below.

ITIL methodology

Exhibit 1: ITIL methodology.

PMI project management processes

Exhibit 2: PMI project management processes.

The biggest challenge according to Ostrander “was how do we bring it alive for our organizations”? The team was primarily collocated, which would be a good thing for this initiative. It was felt that the leadership within RAI IM would be able to engage with the rest of the team and provide the support that they needed. By being a part of the solution they felt that they had a better chance at an internal adoption.

RAI started by surveying the marketplace. They have a strong procurement team in place and they began their search for providers in the ITIL and project management training space. Ostrander said they began with identifying options that included a ground-level, real-life application in their delivery.

Vendor Selection

RAI started by looking at different vendors. Some provided onsite classes only and others provided online only. Villanova has a virtual blended solution that would minimize lost productivity. Villanova University's online program was selected because of the passion of the presenters and the delivery. This passion was seen as critical to getting RAI employees excited about this initiative. Ostrander added, “Villanova University's brand didn't hurt.” It was felt that this would be a valued training program by their employees.

When evaluating Villanova University, Ostrander said, “the sales personnel and program director, Wayne Brantley, were an excellent source of information.” RAI did not know much about the certification process for ITIL. When asked if RAI was looking for ITIL training from Foundation through ITIL Expert, “We didn't know,” said Ostrander. When it was explored that the time and cost investment would have been over training it was deemed that ITIL Foundations was the course that was needed. Brantley, AVP of Professional Education with Villanova University, said, “that one of the most important roles to perform for a client is that of a trusted advisor, a customer doesn't need to buy any more than they need to solve their learning goal.” Sometimes customers buy too much training and other times not enough. With RAI one of the more valuable discoveries was that they didn't want to train to ITIL Expert and RAI liked the fact that Villanova University offered a Master Certificate in IT Service Management and would provide more of a comprehensively developed program.

Villanova met the following criteria for RAI:

  • Comprehensive program,
  • ITIL Foundations was included,
  • PMBOK® Guide coverage was taught in the Essentials of Project Management course,
  • Online course flexibility,
  • Online facilitation,
  • Weekly webinars, and
  • Retention of the course lectures.

Employee Selection for the Program

RAI VP Information Management (IM) Kevan Ostrander identified that the senior leadership team (that included Ostrander as well) would go through the courses first. In addition to the course facilitator that would hold a weekly webinar, the RAI senior leadership would facilitate an onsite follow-on session to the weekly webinar. This “skin in the game” approach led the way for the employees in the department to see that the company really did support this initiative.

The intent was to build an internal certification program that focused on raising the floor on capabilities and standardizing the team's performance across functional lines. Ostrander stated that the following model was used to ultimately build instincts:

RAI Certification Process

Exhibit 3: RAI Certification Process.

Program Structure

The design of the Villanova University program was selected for various reasons. A critical factor to RAI was that it was an online program. Ostrander stated, “We needed this because we all were working on so many different projects and to be quite honest, we didn't have the time to go to training, but we had to do this training.”

Villanova University's program was used in conjunction with assistance from the RAI Leadership team to ensure RAI thinking, culture, and relevant tools were included. This provided a way to bring the program to life. This method also allowed for anything different at RAI than a generic ITIL and PM training program would offer to be discussed during the RAI hour follow-on discussion.


The service delivery improvements have been seen across every functional line at RAI – these include strong reduction in incident recurrence, strong improvement in software and change release quality, increased capacity of support staff and partners, and architectural and security considerations built into each delivered service transaction.

Ostrander identified, “Project outcomes are now about 60% on time and/or on budget and strong change management and project review discipline have been implemented.” The benefits of the Villanova University project management training are seen in the information management department and throughout the company through the interactions that they have. Ostrander stated that they have already realized a return on this investment.

RAI realized the benefit of a standardized project management methodology that PMI has in the PMBOK® Guide. It was an eye opener for many experienced project managers. Many of the project managers were just getting the project done. A lot of time and money was lost through these efforts. Now everyone follows the same methodology and uses tools and terms that are now common across the department.

Next Steps

The ITIL and PM training programs are included in the leadership development throughout RAI. Leadership development and training are taken very seriously at RAI. A structured training and development program is seen as a strategic strength at RAI. Money spent on training cannot just be for the “cheapest” method. Quality is seen as a critical aspect of selecting a training vendor at RAI. Ostrander noted that he and the leadership team that participated in the Villanova University training for ITIL and PM far exceeded the expected quality standards for this program.

RAI now has a focus of the certifications that are now built as being the department's “identity” to the outside world; that is an IT department known for being excellent at service delivery and project management. Ostrander said, “In fact, we are seeing the PM certification and improvements take hold in non-IT departments. We even have a few of them attending current session organized for new employees.”

Project Management Institute. (2013). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® guide) – Fifth edition. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

© 2015, Kevan Ostrander and Wayne Brantley
Originally published as a part of the 2015 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Orlando, Florida, USA